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E90 subunit vaccine protects mice from Zika virus infection and microcephaly.


Zika virus (ZIKV) became a global threat due to its unprecedented outbreak and its association with congenital malformations such as microcephaly in developing fetuses and neonates. There are currently no effective vaccines or drugs available for the prevention or treatment of ZIKV infection. Although multiple vaccine platforms have been established, their effectiveness in preventing congenital microcephaly has not been addressed. Herein, we tested a subunit vaccine containing the 450 amino acids at the N-terminus of the ZIKV envelope protein (E90) in mouse models for either in utero or neonatal ZIKV infection. In one model, embryos of vaccinated dams were challenged with a contemporary ZIKV strain at embryonic day 13.5. The other model infects neonatal mice from vaccinated dams by direct injection of ZIKV into the developing brains. The vaccine led to a substantial reduction of ZIKV-infected cells measured in the brains of fetal or suckling mice, and successfully prevented the onset of microcephaly compared to unvaccinated controls. Furthermore, E90 could protect mice from ZIKV infection even at 140 days post-immunization. This work directly demonstrates that immunization of pregnant mice protects the developing brains of offspring both in utero and in the neonatal period from subsequent ZIKV infection and microcephaly. It also supports the further development of the E90 subunit vaccine towards clinical trials.

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